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‘Homegrown’ Mixes Comedy and Mystery

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Marijuana is notorious for inducing paranoia, but the huffing and puffing antiheroes of “Homegrown” take it to extremes. When they witness the brains behind their cash crop being gunned down, they go into hiding in a half-hearted, stoner sort of way: In their random lucid moments, they realize that anyone--even intimate pals--could be behind the hit.

Perhaps appropriately, “Homegrown” topples between the bar stools as a genre movie: It’s a little too funky and shambling to provide much mystery or tension, it’s not funny enough to qualify as a comedy and it doesn’t add much of substance to the debate over legalizing marijuana.

Still, in the fashion of the sought-after product of the title, for good patches it’s a diverting little hybrid.

“Homegrown” is the third in a mini-trend in contemporary cannabis cinema, following the stewed stoners of “Half-Baked” and “The Big Lebowski” (add to these the drug humor of the recent “Senseless” and the upcoming, higher-profile “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”). Since moviegoers have largely resisted the urge to inhale these releases, one must wonder what they’re smoking at the pitch meetings that get these things green lights.

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Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Carter (Hank Azaria) are the brains, such as they are, of a motley outfit protecting its primo on prime real estate beneath the shade of Northern California redwoods. Assisting them is a dopey doper named Harlan (Ryan Phillippe), and Lucy (Kelly Lynch, perhaps playing her “Drugstore Cowboy” character gone further to, well, seed), who provides them with occasional shelter and affection.

When their boss Malcolm (John Lithgow) is dispatched to that greenhouse in the sky, they bolt with a few pot plants, just enough to sell to pay for their troubles, with a little left over. Later, they discover that their hidden harvest, worth millions, has not been appropriated as aggressively as Malcolm’s life was. Predictably, and ineptly, the guys get a little too greedy.

The film’s most pointed joke is the local community’s lax attitude toward, if not downright acceptance of, the pot peddlers. When they pay the local law enforcement to look the other way, the sheriff’s deputy accepting the payola exults over the new high school auditorium: “We never had a place like that when lumber was the cash crop.”

The truth behind Malcolm’s murder is eventually revealed, amusingly enough; let it not be said that dopers don’t have some ethics. Bit parts and cameos by Jamie Lee Curtis, Ted Danson, Judge Reinhold and Jon Bon Jovi add to the quixotic confusion.

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Director Stephen Gyllenhaal, who made the terrific cable TV film “Paris Trout,” has proved, with features “Losing Isaiah,” “A Dangerous Woman” and “Waterland,” that he has a distinct nose for sniffing out unique, difficult material; alas, he can be hampered by an inability to fully realize his ambitions. Gyllenhaal, who co-wrote the script with Nicolas Kazan (“Reversal of Fortune,” “Fallen”), tells his story too fuzzily to be fully satisfying.

As Gyllenhaal’s story buzzes around, it’s easy to feel like one of his befogged characters, knowing there’s a logic to what’s going on but incapable of piecing everything together coherently. As far as entertainment goes, “Homegrown” provides more of a contact high than the real thing.

* MPAA rating: R for pervasive drug content and language, and for some violence and sexuality. Times guidelines: The protagonists are unrepentant pot growers, so this obviously isn’t for kids.

‘Homegrown’

Billy Bob Thornton: Jack

Hank Azaria: Carter

Ryan Phillippe: Harlan

Kelly Lynch: Lucy

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John Lithgow: Malcolm

TriStar Pictures presents, in association with Lakeshore Entertainment, a Rollercoaster Films production, distributed by TriStar. Director Stephen Gyllenhaal. Written by Gyllenhaal, Nicholas Kazan. Story by Gyllenhaal, Jonah Raskin. Producer Jason Clark. Executive producers Tom Rosenberg, Sigurjon Sighvatsson, Ted Tannebaum, Naomi Foner. Director of photography Greg Gardiner. Production designer Richard Sherman. Editor Michael Jablow. Music Trevor Rabin. Running time 1 hour, 35 minutes.

* In selected theaters around Southern California.


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